Pakistan the oppressor

It is little surprise that Baloch nationalist leaders have rejected the latest peace package proposed by Islamabad

By Peter Tatchell

A series of massacres of peaceful protesters by Pakistani security forces look set to sink hopes of a settlement deal between the government in Islamabad and Baloch nationalists who are campaigning for self-rule. There are fears that the sinister, shadowy Pakistani military and intelligence agencies are behind these killings, in a deliberate attempt to sabotage the reconciliation package put forward by the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

On 15 January, at least two Baloch political activists were shot dead and four others seriously wounded after Pakistani security forces opened fire on a peaceful protest organised by the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) in the Khuzdar district of Balochistan. The rally had been called to protest against the recent murder of Baloch citizens in Karachi and the launching of a new military crackdown in Pakistani annexed and occupied Balochistan.

The shootings are the latest of many killings of Baloch protesters and nationalist leaders. They’ve been targeted because of their support for the six-decades-long campaign of resistance against Pakistan’s invasion and subjugation of their homeland.

In September last year, Pakistani forces opened fire on a public gathering at Tump High School in Balochistan, killing a 20-year-old political activist, Mukhtar Baloch, and wounding 27 others, including four women and a six-year-old child. Five members of the BSO were arrested at the scene and taken to unknown locations. Watch this mobile phone footage of the attack – the shooting begins just over four minutes into the film.

A similar Pakistani military assault on a peaceful Baloch rally took place in January 2009 in Turbat. A month later at Dashte Goran the army attacked a wedding party, killing 13 people, including the bride, groom, six family members and the wedding officiator. A total of 21 people were injured – the majority of them women.

Rasool Bux Mengal, joint secretary of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), was abducted from Uthal last August. His tortured dead body, slashed and covered in cigarette burns, was found hanging from a tree. The intention was clear: to terrorise and intimidate the Baloch people. Mengal was the second BNM leader murdered in the last year. In April 2009, the body of Ghulam Mohammad, chair of the BNM, was found partly decomposed in a vat of toxic chemicals.

In October last year, Baloch medical students were beaten up and arrested by Pakistani forces in a raid on the Bolan Medical College. The same month, 11 innocent civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Dera Bugti district by Pakistan army bombardments.

Little wonder then that Baloch nationalist leaders have rejected the latest peace and reconciliation package proposed by the government in Islamabad. They cite the ongoing military repression and the inadequate nature of the proposals.

At first glance, the “Rahe-i- Haqooq Balochistan” deal doesn’t seem unreasonable. It offers a cessation in military operations, a ban on the construction of new army garrisons (although existing ones would remain), the release of most (not all) political detainees and a payment of $1.4bn in gas royalties, spread over 12 years.

Baloch nationalists say the offer does not give the people of Balochistan control over their own natural resources or a fair price for them. Moreover, of the 4,000 Baloch people who have been arrested and disappeared, only a handful have been released since the democratic civilian government of Prime Minister Gilani was elected in 2008.

The torture of Baloch rights campaigners remains routine and widespread. Promises of de-militarisation are contradicted by continued military operations, attacks on civilian targets and by the building of more police and military garrisons in Balochistan, including a 62% increase in police stations and a 100% increase in paramilitary checkpoints.

Baloch human rights groups report that the kidnapping and torture of peaceful, lawful Baloch activists continues unabated. Indeed, the Pakistani government itself has admitted that in 2009 at least 1,102 people were seized by the security forces in Balochistan and disappeared. In recent years, an estimated 80,000 Baloch people have been displaced by Pakistan’s military attacks.

These attacks have been aided and abetted by military supplies from the UK, including small arms, artillery, helicopter components and military communications equipment. The US has sold the Pakistani military billions in arms, including F-16 attack aircraft, and Bell and Cobra attack helicopters, which have been used against the people of Balochistan.

Rejecting Islamabad’s proposals, nationalist leaders such as Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Balochistan National Party and a former chief minister of Balochistan, argue that the deal would not ensure genuine autonomy and self-rule. They see it as a way of continuing the Pakistani colonisation of their homeland.

Indeed, if the government in Islamabad has a genuine intention to negotiate a settlement, why has it taken nearly two years to put forward these proposals and why are they so inadequate and qualified?

The 1973 constitution of Pakistan promised complete provincial autonomy for Balochistan within 10 years. It never happened. Democratically elected Baloch chief ministers who have tried to defend the interests of the people of Balochistan have been sacked by Islamabad. The current chief minister, Aslam Raisani, has limited authority and can be overruled at any time by the federal government and the military top brass if he steps out of line.

Even if the government of Pakistan had good intentions, its options are limited. Whatever President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani may want to happen in Balochistan, they are in office but not truly in power. They are the public face of a Pakistani state that is beholden to more powerful forces – the Pakistani military and intelligence services, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI). Together with the army, these intelligence services are the real power in Pakistan. They are implicated in six decades of disappearances, torture, detention without trial and extra-judicial killings in Balochistan.

The former dictator and general, Pervez Musharaff, may have been ousted from the presidency in 2008 but his cronies still hold many of the key levers of power, especially in the all-crucial military, security and intelligence agencies. They continue to call the shots and pull the strings, regardless of what the democratic, civilian government says and wants.


Date: January 28, 2010

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